Despite being one of the liveliest of Lisbon’s neighborhoods, Alvalade doesn’t appear in most city guides. Maybe because of the location, north of downtown and next to the airport, with planes taking off and landing being part of the usual sights and sounds. Maybe because it is mainly a residential area, with few – if any – hotels available nearby. Maybe because it is seen as a strictly local neighborhood, with no museums, elevated viewpoints or places to listen to fado. But despite all that, it has a lot to offer, especially to those who want to eat, shop or simply roam the streets with the locals.
Let’s focus on that first verb: to eat. In Alvalade, there are still plenty of places that offer traditional Portuguese food at traditional Portuguese prices: less than 15 euro per meal. Some of the neighborhood’s best tascas have been recently renovated, with a slight increase on the bill – nothing too hefty – but keeping the same old-style cuisine and the daily dishes that have been attracting a faithful clientele for the last few decades.
That is precisely what happens at 70-year-old Adega da Bairrada, one of Alvalade’s everlasting classics. Bairrada is an area in the central region of Portugal, known for its wines and, of course, the famous leitão à bairrada (roasted suckling pig), one of Portugal’s most sought-after specialties. It is also where the first owners of this establishment hailed from. Their sons, Alberto and Adelino Rocha, transformed it into a proper restaurant during the 1970s. That’s why many long-standing customers still call it “Irmãos Rocha,” Rocha Brothers.
Despite being one of the liveliest of Lisbon’s neighborhoods, Alvalade doesn’t appear in most city guides.
The brothers retired a few years ago, about the same time the place was renovated. But it is still in the family: their daughters Sílvia and Lília now run the business, and son-in-law Eduardo keeps everything going smoothly in the kitchen. And that it is not an easy feat. Adega da Bairrada is a lunch-time favorite of so many, that it often gets crowded right after the doors open, even before noon, so it is recommended to book in advance or arrive after 2:30 p.m.
The best dishes are the ones served between Wednesday and Friday. Their cozido à Portuguesa, the soulful meat and vegetables stew that is part of most tascas’ menus, is especially good, as most of the sausages used in the recipe come from Viseu, also in central Portugal. Those same sausages are used in another absolute classic every Friday: enchidos com grelos, a mix of different traditional sausages – farinheira, morcela and chouriço – served with turnip greens. Clients can also find them on the side of another excellent Friday dish, pernil cozido (boiled pork shank). Thursdays are also good days to visit, thanks to a remarkable polvo frito com arroz malandrinho, fried octopus fillets with a soupy rice that includes bits of that same octopus. And we could go on and on: there aren’t any wrong choices around here.
That is also true in the dessert department. Eduardo and his kitchen team put good effort into the sweet stuff. All of the desserts are homemade: even the traditional pastéis de nata (custard tarts), a rarity in this kind of restaurant – most Lisboetas don’t usually eat those to end their meals, but here they will. After all, this is a special place.